Tag: radical unschooling

“Screen Time”

We get the “my kids are doing nothing but play video games/watch tv/look at a screen and I can’t stand it, what should I do?” question about once every week or so on our  (now huge) Christian unschooling Facebook group. It has become the norm. We are all kind of tired of it. Really. For many reasons. Mostly because we hear the fear, we know the paradigm shift hasn’t occurred yet, and  we know it will be a fight to get there, and that part is exhausting. The following is a recent response that I wrote while super-short on sleep 😀 but which ended up covering all the basics in one place.

Esther playing Sims.
Esther playing Sims.

To pull from something my dear friend Pam often points out; how much time is “nothing other than game on their PC/ds/Wii”. Do they get up to get a drink? Go to the bathroom? Eat something? Sleep? If they are doing those things then clarify. They are doing something other than just playing games. They are probably getting up. They may even jump around, do other things. They may spend a few minutes getting something, look something up, they may even go play with something else for a while, go outside, play together beside the tv, they are very likely doing something else too. We need to see those things and recognize that no, the child is not spending “all their time”, they are spending more time than we feel comfortable with.  When we start out with a generalization, it is really hard to get from the viewpoint of seeing it in a negative light to seeing “screens” as many different types of learning and internal things going on and the screen itself as just the media they are getting those things.

Rachel watching anime.
Rachel watching anime.

My husband spends the majority of his day in front of a screen. Working, playing, socializing. He does many different things and yes, he has always preferred doing things in front of a computer screen to elsewhere- there are just so many more things to do, it is a vast world full of many, many types of media in one place- no huge mess to clean up when he wants to play a game, he can write quickly and efficiently, read quickly and move between many different things to read, watch a movie, change the movie, and so on.  It is an amazing, miraculous thing that allows us to communicate with our friends across the world (he collaborates with people all across the US weekly on huge projects), work anywhere (he works with people from all across the globe) and so on. It is amazing that this technology is available in our lifetimes and our children get to learn the language of it now, easily, without fear.  Our kids are going to live in a world where much of their time is going to be in front of the computer. Some people won’t, but the vast majority will. They will use it for work, for play, for socialization, and as unschoolers we have the freedom to let them learn it right now, first hand, and be proficient at it. This is a huge boon compared to kids who are stuck in a classroom unable to look things up as they are interested. Our kids will be well prepared for the future, right now.

 “Technology is here to stay. So why would I choose to keep my kids illiterate in the language that they may need for the future? A half an hour a day does not give kids time to explore the land scape.” ~Aza Donnelly

That said, if you are still really uncomfortable with how much time they are spending, then you get off the computer (you are here, reading this, communicating with others, online) and do really cool things out where they will see. Things that they will love. You make things available that go with what they love on their games (you will probably have to get online to research those things). You find things that associate with what they are doing so there is a connection- if they are into a game that has an associated tv show or other media then there are probably lots of  products out there related to it- pick up a book connected with it, or some figurines, or whatever. If there is a website that has info about the game they are playing (hints, a walkthrough, a wiki- my kids learned to navigate the internet and read because they loved looking up info for their games) put it on your screen and show it to them. If the fact that they would be reading it on a screen bothers you, then you can often buy  a gamers guide but they do get expensive. Offer to help them create a database of the characters and their skills, or print up ones you find online for quick reference. Pick up a gaming magazine for kids, or a book about the collectibles or whatever. Find ways you can connect with the kids where they are, ask them about the games, the shows, whatever. Bring them healthy finger foods if you are worried about what they are eating or that they aren’t eating enough. Ask them about the game, what they are playing, the plot, the people in the games. Let them know you are thinking about them  and want to encourage their interests. Find some aspect you can understand and join them where they are.

Issac playing online with a friend.
Issac playing online with a friend.

This will help you connect with them and really get a feel for what they are getting out of all the things they do on that form of media, and maybe even why. And as they feel you are really trying and aren’t going to “take it away” and that you aren’t frowning about it at them, they will loosen their hold on it a bit and gradually they will start joining you in the cool things you are doing (not all), they will start looking at the books, playing with the associated toys or crafts, and so on. (Many of us have minecraft posters on the wall, or Pokemon, or Skylanders, or Terraria, and books, and action figures, stuffies, houses full of geek references.) Meeting them where they are will help you feel connection with them again (which is usually where the parents panic when they start feeling the kids are doing “nothing but screen things”.) It takes time for both sides, but it is like learning another language and our kids get to do it first-hand and be prepared for this changing world where screens are an everyday all the time part of our lives.

 

A Thought about Stress

Think about a time you have been under a lot of stress.

A person you know and respect gets angry and starts yelling at you for reasons you don’t understand.

Your boss berates you for something out of your control.

A close friend is struggling with stress at home and lashes out at you about something trivial.

A bereaved loved one takes their frustrations out on you.

A dear friend misunderstands something you said and refuses to discuss it or listen to what you meant.

A client is angry about a situation you have no control over and takes it out on you.

A bossy family member insists you do things their way when you know it would not be best.

Your spouse had a bad day and lays into you about something unrelated.

You mess up in a big way and feel bad but don’t know how to fix it because you know the person involved won’t take it well.

You screw up and try to fix it but don’t manage to do it right and the other person is furious.

You are trying to learn something new, working really hard at it, and someone teases you for not getting it already.

Someone treats you as a second class citizen because of something you can do nothing about.

Someone blames you for something you didn’t do.

Someone with more experience, expects you to understand why they do what they do but doesn’t attempt to do the same for you.

Someone demands you show them respect when they show you none in return.

Someone belittles you in front of others.

How do you feel?
Does fight or flight kick in?
Do you panic?
Do you fight back?
Do you empathize and realize that person is having a bad day, week, year and stay calm?
Do you belittle the other person?
Do you try to make peace?
Do you take it all on yourself, blame yourself, and accept full responsibility even if it wasn’t your fault?

How does your heart feel?
Do you have anxiety? Stress? Do you just move on as if nothing had happened? Do you internalize it and hold on to it? Does just the thought of the situation make you sick inside?

What if this was a regular occurrence? What if you were dealing with this person on a regular basis? What if their treatment of you was constantly belittling, blaming, or just plain stressful? What would you do? How would you respond?

Would you lash out at them?
Would you respect them?
Would you be timid around them?
Would you avoid them completely?
Would you feel sick all the time at the thought of dealing with them?
Would you willingly tell them everything or avoid speaking to them as much as possible?

This. This is what we do to our children.

This is what we do when we are having a bad day and lash out at them for knocking over their water.

This is what we do to them when we get angry at the mess they left and didn’t notice.

This is what we do when we accuse them of motives they had not even considered.

This is what we do when they don’t know what they did wrong or we misunderstand but don’t listen.

This is what we do to them when they are having a bad day and we belittle their feelings or even get angry at them.

This is what we do when we tease about past mistakes, point out failings, make fun of what they like.

This is what we do when we treat children like second class citizens, demand respect without showing them respect.

If we as adults get sick, stressed, frustrated, try to escape, or place blame when others treat us like this. If we get angry when we feel we have been unjustly accused or when others attribute motives to us that we had never considered. If this is true of us, mature adults who have had plenty of time and experience to learn how to deal with these situations, how much more so for children, who have not yet learned empathy, who are still learning how to navigate the world, and have people they love and should be able to trust treating them this way on a regular basis? No wonder teenagers refuse to share what is upsetting them, refuse to talk about how they feel, prefer to hide what is going on lest they get blamed or berated. By the time these children reach young adulthood they have spent the large majority of their life living with constant stress and dealing with loved ones who treat them with less than respect.

What if, instead, you are treated with gentleness and respect? What if in a misunderstanding the other person regularly gives you the benefit of the doubt, values both your feelings and your opinions? What if the other person, treats you with respect and grace and gentleness rather than blaming and demanding respect?

What about our children? What if they are respected, treated with gentleness and understanding? What if we recognize that they are struggling way more than we see as they learn to navigate this world? What if, instead of assuming they are just doing things to get on our nerves, we recognize that they are having a rough time, they are in pain, struggling to learn something new? What if – instead of rushing them to new things because we are sick of picking the same toy off the floor in their new game – we stick with it, recognizing that they are learning something- that this game is part of their development and that it takes lots of repetition for them to figure it out? What if when they make mistakes as youngsters we try to understand what is going on both what really happened and if there are any struggles we have been missing? What if when they lash out because they are having a rough time we recognize it as just that and look deeper, helping them work through all those emotions? What if, by the time they are teens they have had lots of grace and understanding (real understanding)? What if they really know they are loved and respected because they have had the opportunity to live with love and respect- where their opinions and feelings really matter?

Which young person is going to be healthier and happier? The one who lived with constant stress or the one who lived in a world where he felt valued? Which one is going to make better decisions? The one who is afraid to talk to her parents and so just lies or the one who knows they will really listen and help? Which is going to be more mature and ready to face the real world? The one who has spent most of his life bullied or the one who knows himself well enough to know who he is and what he really wants? Which is going to have the healthiest relationships? The one who has lived in unhealthy relationships or the one who knows her value?